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Fertility Shaming: ‘It’s A Vagina, Not A Clown Car’

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Obviously you don’t have to be conservative to have a large family — I have many liberal friends who have large families, too — but seems to be what it takes to get you more vitriol. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin had the audacity to think she could be both a mother and a politician and I think we remember how that went down. I don’t know if it was because she allowed her baby with Down syndrome to live or because he was her — gasp! gasp! gasp! — fifth child, but the vitriol was unbelievable. I remember the Washington Post‘s Sally Quinn questioning whether a mother should be allowed to run for office, a problem that never seemed to arise with mothers of fewer children. Some people named Andrew Sullivan are so stunned that they can’t let go of the Bristol Palin conspiracy theory — that she gave birth to her mother’s child. How’s that for birtherism?. Never has a uterus been so analyzed and obsessed over.

And need we recall the things that Bill Maher said about Palin? To give but one example, how’s this:

“What is it with this family and pregnancies? Do they not have condoms up there in Alaska? When they say ‘don’t retreat, reload’ they are not f**king around,” Bill Maher said on his weekly Friday night show “Real Time,” which broadcasts on the HBO network.

“I think they think abstinence is latin for no anal,” Maher concluded.

Because, you know, having more than two babies is so not what the elites do. Perhaps the sentiment was best expressed by David Letterman when he joked that Palin had given birth to her sixth child during an interview on the campaign trail.

Sure, Palin is a polarizing figure. But other mothers of more than a few children report similar comments. I read about Leslie Leyland Fields, a mother of six, in the New York Times a few years ago. When she told her boss at the college where she taught that she was pregnant with her fifth, he said “This is what, your 9th or 10th?” Some people come up to her and whisper patronizingly “Let me tell you how this happens.” She wrote about her experiences in another essay:

Ms. Fields lamented new social norms that assume that multiple children burden the goals of educated, professional women: “The smart, ambitious, fully realized 21st-century woman chooses career. The ambitionless woman has children.”

Leyland Fields argues that there are benefits to women being devoted both to career and children:

With more children, she had to change jobs, but her career, she said, has become more fulfilling: she teaches graduate students instead of undergraduates now, requiring less time in the classroom, which has allowed her to write three more books.

“The criticism feels elitist,” she said. “It’s coming from educated people, which makes me think, You have no excuse for thinking in such stereotypes.”

Another woman in the article explains that children are a kind of wealth, just not the kind of wealth that our highly materialistic society values these days. The comments to the article prove that the smug disapproval of fertility — and the babies that come with that fertility — extends to readers of the paper. At least the comments there are better than what I found on the Facebook page “I hate people with too many kids.”

One of the radical changes that happened in the last century or so was that fertility came to be viewed as a type of biological slavery rather than a natural human capacity. Some of the social developments that accompanied this change have been great. Some not so much, such as fertility shaming, or the despising of large families.

A major part of being a woman is our ability to create and bear children. Some people think this is a thing to be defeated permanently or avoided most of the time. Fine. But the shaming of women who embrace this aspect of our lives is harmful to women, a culture that respects life, and families themselves.

Or as this woman I snapped a picture of recently, her womb full with pregnancy while children played at her feet, put it: fertility is not a disease. Let’s not treat it like it is.

(Top photo: Jaren Jai Wicklund/Shutterstock)

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